There's been an awful lot written in the past few days about the death of Paul Raven (I've already devoted two posts to it), but nine out of ten of these articles seem only to rattle off the laundry list of musical projects he was involved with, notably the Neon Hearts, Kitsch, Killing Joke, Murder Inc. Pigface, Prong, Zilch, Society 1, Smartyr, Godflesh, Snow Black, Sarge and Mob Research (not to mention producing everyone from Ned's Atomic Dustbin through Headcount). If I'm not mistaken, I think Raven also did some session work with Yemeni duo Nasa, played for a short while with Zodiac Mindwarp & The Love Reaction and even leant his bass playing skills to the likes of former Go Go, Belinda Carlisle for a surreal appearance on "Top of The Pops." While it's true that the man's resume was impressive, I again stress that there was so much more to Paul Raven than his impeccable credentials as a rock star.
As a long-time fan of Killing Joke, I signed onto The Gathering, a worldwide online community of KJ fans, in 1999 (i.e. when I finally joined the 20th century and procured myself a home computer with a modem). As predictably geeky as the lay-person and/or non-devout would correctly assume, The Gathering spent (and still spends) most of its time debating the minutia of the band's catalog and acting as a clearing house of KJ-related information. Always the most communicative of the band's fold, Paul Raven infiltrated the Gathering right after I'd joined and began feeding the collective prized bits of information of band activity. In this capacity, Raven was invaluable, as Killing Joke had otherwise always prided itself on its austere impenetrability. While still respectful of that aesthetic, Paul Raven was endearingly non-enigmatic.
In relatively short order, Raven became much chattier and refreshingly down-to-earth. One afternoon out of the blue, Raven sent me an instant message, asking for my phone number. Amazed that one of my heroes wanted to actually converse, I supplied him the number, and within moments, he was on my phone, laughing loudly and inviting me to a party later that month that he was going to be attending right here in New York. Of course, I said yes.
To suggest that Paul was a consummate networker would be a fair and accurate statement, but he wasn't mercenary about it. While he clearly always had an eye open for new opportunities, he was also a hugely social guy. Knowing he was going to be in New York, he simply reached out to any and all of his New York contacts, I being one of them. The event in question was some seemingly random shmooze-fest held over at Chelsea Piers. I tried to coax my friend, Gardner Post of the band E.B.N. to come with me -- thinking that a possible collaboration might arise from their meeting -- but was unable to reach him in time. I brought my friend Rob B. along and we made the most of the proceedings. The place was crawling with scenesters and impresarios -- Lenny Kravitz, Gena Gershon and that dude out of Third Eye Blind were all there. I was more impressed to see Wayne Kramer of the MC5, Brian James of the Damned and punk photog extraordinaire, Bob Gruen all hanging out together at a table, prompting me to sheepishly approach and ask if I could take their picture. They gamely agreed on the condition that I get in the picture too. Suffice to say, it's a photograph I now cherish.
My friends Christina and Jim suddenly appeared via some random connection a little before midnight, but it looked like Raven wasn't going to show. I made the most of the open bar and got in a quasi-argument with some dink wearing a Queensryche t-shirt (ironic metal appreciation is a big pet peeve of mine), until Raven finally arrived, all broad smiles and knuckle-crushing handshakes.
Again, for a guy I'd only exchanged e-mails and IM's with, Paul was not on any rock star trip and was immediately easy to be around. Swiftly deducing that the party in question was somewhat lame, he asked us where we should all go. Within moments, we were all cramming into Jim's tiny Japanese car to speed off to a small club in the West Village. We spent the remainder of the evening drinking, talking and laughing.
From that night on, Raven and I were in fairly regular contact. He sent his best wishes from abroad when I got married in 2001, e-mailed about my well-being immediately on September 11th and routinely rang me up to find out how I was coping with fatherhood (himself no slouch in that department). When Killing Joke fleetingly returned to the States to play New York's Webster Hall in 2003, Raven took care of myself and a coterie of other wayward Gatherers. In 2004, Raven rang me up to chase down his former colleague, Big Paul Ferguson for an interview. When I flew over for the band's anniversary shows in 2005, Raven again acted the inclusive host. Last year, Raven returned with Ministry and put myself and Christina (who he'd also stayed in touch with) on the list, and joined us for drinks afterwards. His more recent plans found him bopping in and out of New York with more frequency. We'd had a standing rain check to get together between projects (when he wasn't working with his many new bands like Mob Research, Sarge, a reunited Prong and Snow Black). He'd only just de-camped back to Europe for a little while to work with French noise-merchants (and massive Killing Joke fans), Treponem Pal (their name is untranslatable French slang for venereal disease, if you must know). Sadly, this was where his journey ended.
I am only one voice of a very loud chorus these days lamenting the big man's passing, and I truthfully only scratched the surface. I'm terribly sad that I won't be getting any more of his endearingly profane e-mails or hear his roaring laughter on my answering machine ever again. Paul Raven was truly one of a kind, and we shall not see his like again. Rest in peace, Paul.
I started writing the entry below some time ago, but never finished it. In the wake of this week's events, it seemed appropriate to revive and complete it. Play the track very loudly....
At the risk of belaboring the obvious, let me just say that Killing Joke is my favorite band. I'd had other "favorite bands" before them -- notably Kiss, Pink Floyd, Iron Maiden, Devo, the Circle Jerks, Motorhead and a few others, but once I'd laid ears on the `Joke in 1984, it was pretty much over for any other contenders. Killing Joke forever dwell at the top of the heap. As such, their name and mine are frequently mentioned in tandem. My unwavering support for Killing Joke has been well documented, often to the point of parody. With that in mind, I've avoided citing any of their music here. It goes without saying that I think absolutely everything they've done (even the arguable clunker albums like Outside The Gate and their last one, Hosannas From The Basements Of Hell) is required listening.
But there's one track of theirs that been extra resonant for me these days, and that's "Feast of Blaze" off their inexplicably under-praised 1983 album, Fire Dances. Fracturing consensus among the band's faithful, Fire Dances is loved and loathed in equal measures. Acolytes praise it for Geordie Walker's signature guitar playing, at its bell-like chimiest throughout the disc's ten tracks. Detractors -- including members of the band itself -- cite the inarguably treble-heavy production (allegedly due to a preponderance of cocaine in the recording studio during the mixing process) and its somewhat oblique, sing-songy lyrics. To be fair, there is admittedly an awful lot of La La La-ing throughout the album. While still a burly, unwieldy package, it does lack the oomph-laden heaviosity of the three studio albums that preceded it.
Personally speaking, my only complaint with Fire Dances is with its frankly lamentable cover art, featuring some sort of pyromaniacal mime. Compared to the grimly iconic sleeves that graced the band's first three albums, Fire Dances looks a bit silly. I would say that it's their worst album cover, but that dubious honor surely goes to Outside The Gate (an album already rich with flaw). The music on Fire Dances, however, I find absolutely vital, and "Feast of Blaze" is a perfect example.
Though ushered in by Big Paul Ferguson's unrelenting primal toms (thumping out a rhythmic pattern I continually find myself drumming on my knees whenever I'm nervous -- which, these days, is quite often), it's Geordie's inimitable guitar that is the centerpiece of "Feast of Blaze." I'm at a loss to explain it in technical terminology, but the sound is simultaneously simple and dizzyingly complex. Rich with fat, expansive reverb, Geordie's hollow bodied Gibson ES-295 (a.k.a. "The Golden Harp") sounds positively ablaze here, pardon the stupefying pun.
Though invariably about an apocalyptic purification by fire, I've always found "Feast of Blaze" to be an uplifting, inspirational track, sort've like a more eloquent take on Black Flag's "Rise Above". It's a striking statement of aspiration, determination and self-reliance. Play it with the volume it so justly deserves.